We shouldn’t be surprised when an addict refuses our initial confrontation. The situation is difficult for the addict as well. Perhaps, in spite of our fears, we presented our concerns logically and with more than enough evidence. We may have spent weeks, months, or even years, preparing to make our case, only to have our addicted spouse minimize our efforts and refuse help.
If you’ve already confronted your spouse, and you sense positive change is not occurring, you may want to review your initial confrontation. Effective confrontations present the facts that reveal your spouse’s addiction as well as your unwavering resolve to find a consistent and ongoing solution. You will want to continue to “speak the truth in love” as his or her sibling in Christ. While you may be very angry with your spouse, approaching the situation with determination to “come alongside” and walk through the process with him or her is important at this point. (Ongoing refusal to address the problem, however, may require you to remove yourself from the situation at a later time.)
Perhaps you will find that another confrontation is needed. As you re-approach your spouse, the following guidelines may be helpful.
- Read Matthew 18: 15-17. While these verses do not specifically address marriage, they apply to any situation where sin must be confronted. Your initial confrontation satisfies the first step of a three-step process. Now you must identify who will help you to reach out to your spouse a second time. Be sure to choose only two or three adults who love both you and your spouse, and will serve your marriage with honor and discretion.
- If your spouse has a history of domestic violence or harm to self, present these facts to your team. A responsible team plans for worst-case scenarios, including when to call 911 for emergency assistance. This is not meant to frighten or create hysteria, but simply to help you prepare for any contingencies that may be relevant to your situation.
- It is also advisable to speak with a Christian attorney about the possibility that a therapeutic separation may become necessary. You will want to know how to proceed legally if a separation is unavoidable.
- Before meeting with the team, prepare the information they will need to receive in order to help you. Outline the problem, the information and resources you have collected, and your specific expectations (e.g. that your spouse will join you for Christian counseling, become accountable, etc.)
- The intervening team should meet privately in advance to discuss the exact nature of the problem. Each team member should prepare a verbal statement that can be presented to your spouse within five minutes.
- One team member will serve as moderator. He or she will introduce the purpose of the meeting to your spouse, keep the confrontation within a 20-minute time limit, and ask for your spouse’s response at the end of the collective confrontation.
- Plan to hold the confrontation in a private location that is sensitive to your spouse’s needs.
- The team should arrive simultaneously to meet with the one who is to be confronted. The addict should not receive advanced notice of this meeting. Team members should refrain from discussing this meeting with the addict or others prior to the group confrontation. The only exception would be to share with their spouses, and caution should be exercised.
- As the team approaches the addict, the moderator will offer a brief explanation that it will only take 20 minutes to share their concerns. Once seated, the moderator will state their motive is love, that each person has something to offer, and that at the end of the meeting, the addict will have an opportunity to respond. The moderator will also offer to begin the meeting with prayer.
- Each team member will express his or her prepared statement with personal humility. As the spouse, you are the last to present your statement of concern. When the team members have offered their input, the moderator will ask your spouse to respond to your specific expectations. The objective is to hear the confronted addict accept the help and recommendations of the team, without protest. If your spouse begins to deny the facts, shift blame, or try to take control of the meeting, the moderator should assertively reiterate that this is the time for the addict to listen. If your spouse refuses to cooperate, the moderator may be forced to end the failed intervention.
- If the addict asks for time to think about his options, the moderator should indicate that the team is also there to support the addict’s spouse and family, and that an answer is expected before the team disperses.
- If the addict refuses help or becomes belligerent, the moderator and team should ask him to gather a few things and leave the home immediately. The team should not leave before the addict departs. Once your spouse has left, you will most likely need their additional support given the stress and disappointment. Obviously, an intervention is a demonstration of a radical, tough love approach. Your spouse needs to know that you are resolved to restoring sanity within the home. Given the nature of codependency and perhaps something unique to your marriage, you may be fearful of the consequences. If your partner has been physically violent in the past or has recently left you to fear for your safety, you must be realistic and proactive about your safety needs. In some occasions, spouses have had to seek anonymous, safe shelters within the community and legal counsel. In any case, you will need to remain principled-centered: the sexual immorality within your marriage must be appropriately confronted and ended.
- If your spouse has failed to comply with the intervention, you will want to inform your church leadership so that they can make a collective appeal to your spouse. Again, this is not done for the purposes of condemnation, but to shower your spouse with Christian love and support. If your church leadership refuses to become involved in the process, you may have to accept this limitation. There is only so much a spouse can do without the support of a local church that is prepared and willing to become involved.
As Christians, we understand that God hates divorce and would have us to reconcile whenever possible. At the same time, the Bible is clear that that if three levels of loving confrontation have been denied, then the relationships with that person are to be forfeited with ongoing prayer that God will restore him or her to sanity and repentance in time.
Finally, an important note: as each situation is different, the general guidelines offered here will probably need to be customized to your situation. Each couple may find themselves at different points along the scale of addiction. For those who have suffered through this problem for years, a more radical approach may be necessary. Some who have only recently discovered the problem may be reluctant to take more drastic measures at this point. They may in time. Remember that there is no one “magic bullet” approach to confronting your spouse, but the principles are always the same. If you feel hesitant to implement the outlined approach, trust your instincts and seek the counsel of a licensed therapist.